Director Column

Dan Loy, Iowa Beef Center director's monthly column featured in Cattleman Magazine. Archives

Dan Loy in The Cattleman Magazine


June 2022

Navigating High Feed Costs

Corn prices had already been increasing over the past year. Now with global grain production interrupted due to the war in Ukraine and growing conditions in South America, corn prices are reaching levels not seen since the drought of 2012. And, corn prices tend to drive other feed prices as well. This cost crunch comes at a time when feedlot margins were improving. There are several strategies for navigating high feed costs. Below are just a few considerations. Look for updates from the Iowa Beef Center team as costs change in this highly volatile environment.

Re-evaluate feed cost and local opportunities. Corn is unlikely to be the lowest cost energy feed. When this happens, nutritionists need to be creative in managing rations. Luckily many byproduct and commodity feeds tend to lag corn prices so they are likely to be competitively priced sources of energy. Higher inclusions of distillers grains or corn gluten feed will likely be warranted. Also, look locally for feeds or byproducts. Examples could be grain screenings from the local co-op, or food byproducts. Our Feed Energy Index program was designed to help you evaluate potential options.

More time outside of feedlots. Depending on forage growing conditions, it may be more valuable for calves to spend more time as stocker or in backgrounding situations. Heavier feeder cattle might be coming to feedlots in greater numbers.

Backgrounding. If you have forage or cornstalks and access to coproducts, feeding a limited grain ration might be the low-cost solution.

Manage feed waste and shrink. Now is the time to really look at storage and feeding losses. As feeds become more expensive, saving a few percentage points in feed losses can quickly pay for a commodity shed. Also tightening up your feed bunk management can reduce feed waste and spoilage, especially in the summer.

Rethink market weights and timing. Cattle become less efficient when they get heavier. Carcass weights have continually increased for decades due to genetics, technology, fatter endpoints. Marketing cattle on a carcass basis also incentivizes higher weights due to the effect of carcass transfer. However, with high feed costs, marketing at slightly lighter weights should improve feed conversions and lower cost of gain.
Value of technology. When feed costs are high, technologies that improve feed conversion become much more valuable. Be sure to re-evaluate your implant program to make sure you are optimizing feed efficiency. Also, if you are not feeding a beta-agonist, now is a good time to reconsider.

Feed costs are not the only escalating cost in beef production. This might also be a good time to review your yardage charges. Please take a look at the updated Yardage-Diesel Relationship calculator.

Once again, we know many of you will soon have expiring BQA certification. We will continue to provide BQA education and certification sessions across Iowa this summer. The Iowa Beef Center provides this program through a cooperative program led by the Iowa Beef Industry Council. For an updated list of upcoming programs, check this site.

Registration should now be open for the 6th Annual Feedlot Short Course to be held August 2-4. This program includes hands-on learning as well as classroom education. We feature nationally recognized speakers as well as ISU specialists. Be sure to register early. Enrollment is limited to 30 people and it has filled every year.


The IBC at Iowa State University serves as the university’s extension program to cattle producers. Our center comprises a team of faculty and staff from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Veterinary Medicine and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. We work together to develop and deliver the latest in research-based information to improve the profitability and vitality of Iowa’s beef industry. If you’d like to be notified of updates on progress of research projects or programs that might be coming to your area, please subscribe to our “Growing Beef” newsletter by following the link on our website, If you have a question, use the “Ask our Experts” link on the website. Also, feel free to call us at 515-294-BEEF or email us at You can also follow @iowabeefcenter on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and now, AgFuse!